One of the key recommendations a consultant made for public school reform in West Virginia was to reduce the size of the bloated state Department of Education. In addition to the DOE’s cost, the current system is too centralized to perform effectively, the consultant wrote in an “audit” report.

But merely shifting that expensive, centralized control out of Charleston probably is not an appropriate reaction to the audit.

State Board of Education members, who have control over the DOE, have suggested a variety of proposals for school reform. It will be near the top of legislators’ priority lists when they convene in February.

In discussing those ideas with lawmakers this month, state board President Wade Linger said regional education service agencies ought to be given more responsibilities for professional development programs aimed at teachers.

Judy Hale, president of the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, objects to that. The quality of professional development programs provided by the eight RESAs scattered throughout the state is poor, she argues.

Simply shifting administrators from the DOE in Charleston to RESAs at eight other locations does not address the consultant’s complaint about top-heavy management of schools, Hale believes.

She is correct, at least to an extent. Merely relocating personnel that some teachers and administrators at the local level view as state bureaucrats will save no money and give educators little, if any, new flexibility. If that is Linger’s plan, it should be rejected.

But – and this is a big “but” – RESAs were established in the first place to provide county school systems with services they could not afford on their own, or which could be offered more economically in a multi-county format. In some ways they do a very good job of that.

If improvements are needed in how RESAs provide services such as professional development training, they should be made. And the agencies should not be viewed as merely new homes for DOE bureaucrats.

RESAs can be important parts of public school reform, possibly playing greater roles than they do now. Legislators should take advantage of what RESAs can do well to improve schools and spend taxpayers’ money more efficiently.